Guidelines: A Vision for Your Intentional Community

Visioning can be a fun and energizing process. It’s a creative process that doesn’t necessarily have an established sequence. If your group is small, consider taking a retreat or a camping trip together to ensure you have one focus and a lot of together-time to mull over ideas, even as you’re working on simple activities such as meal preparation, or while exploring the area.

The following steps are suggestions for how you might discuss your vision for intentional community. It would be helpful to get a friend to facilitate the meeting, so that the group coordinator can fully participate in the discussion. The steps are simple, so it wouldn’t take a formally trained group facilitator to guide a small group in these steps. These steps are similar to the steps for creating the mission statement. It’s a group process that could be completed over several meetings.

Prepare for meeting.

It will help to have the printed list of the document titled Determining Compatibility of Group Members if group members have already weighed in. As you work on the visioning process, try to remind each other not to get too much into “the weeds,” which will come next when you define the mission. Sorting out the profile question topics might look like this:

  • Vision statement: larger categories for IC types (what), intentional community types (what), service-based IC (what), type of service (what)
  • Mission statement: population to serve (who), proportion of vulnerable residents (who), residential proximity (how), ownership types (how), population density (where)

Discuss preferred IC types.

You may have already started this step, as suggested on the Values, Vision, Mission page. If you haven’t yet looked at overlap in group members’ IC types, write out the IC types that any member wants to bring up for group consideration. Group members could write their name or a tally mark next to the IC types they prefer. Alternatively, if the group is large, it may be more workable to allow each member a set number of votes. They can use all their votes on one type if they choose. If a few clearly preferred ICs don’t emerge from this process, each member could be given a number of additional votes with an instruction to place them only on one or more IC types they didn’t choose on the first tally marking.

Consider a service-based IC.

As described in the community types page, some intentional communities are based around housing a vulnerable and underserved segment of society. While you may feel it is too much of a stretch for your group’s resources, consider the possibilities of grant funding (especially if you become a non-profit), charging for some caring services as a business, and/or offsetting the IC expenses if the served population can assist in the community’s paid or unpaid work. You can combine a for-profit and non-profit within your community. You might plan for one or more of the following ways to serve:

  • Short term residence (shelter)
  • Long term residence (shelter)
  • Potentially permanent residence
  • (add-on) schooling or vocational training
  • (add-on) support services possibly including paid work opportunities
  • Provides housing while attending external college or vocational training

While this discussion is about a general type of service, you might save for later the details of who and how many to serve. If it seems important to discuss that in your visioning process, jump over to the mission statement writing process to see where we’ve listed options for you, which are also in the profile questions. Go to the section “Discuss details if you plan a service-based IC.”

Evaluate based on group’s core values.

A next step in your vision for your IC is to discuss which of the IC types would best exemplify your group’s core values.

For the IC types that had the most votes, you might write the IC type large on a few papers and place them in separate locations in the meeting space. Allow members to break into small groups based on which they would like to discuss. If anyone is alone with an IC type, they can bring their IC type to whatever other group they feel is related or of interest to them. Ask the small groups to discuss how the group values can be put into action within their IC type. A facilitator could check in with the groups to determine when this is mostly finished, or you could set a time limit, depending on whether breakout groups are small or large. It could help to ask breakout groups to start the discussion by giving everyone a chance to state what they see of value in this IC type. Ask each group to pick a spokesperson to summarize their discussion for the group. To close out this circle, ask the spokesperson to state their summary, in a set time, such as 45 seconds (research shows this is about the average time people will stay focused on one topic without their minds wandering).

Allow a pause.

At this point, it’s important not to rush to make a choice. If your meeting time is limited after you’ve gone thru the first two steps, you might plan to resume the discussion at the next meeting. You might introduce the next step to give some ideas for what members could do in preparation. Alternatively, you could move on to the next steps, but don’t consider them the final decisions. Rather, this could be one round in which one IC type wins out, but leaving room for another IC type to be a challenger in the next meeting.

Debate the merits and explore options as a group.

It may help to invite group members to be an advocate for their favored IC type if they feel strongly about it. Others can contact that advocate if they want to discuss that option between meetings. Any member can research options and make a case for their preferences in the next meeting. Members can also propose a form of community that is not on the IC types list.

Combination types could be workable, such as in the following examples:

  • If one of you is only interested in vanlife and others are interested in a stable location, this could work if the van dwellers have a role that is filled periodically as they stop in to regroup.
  • The Camphill Community has many locations of the type “housing or shelter for a vulnerable group.” They house as long-term residents people whose intellectual capacity is inadequate to care for themselves independently, but with assistance they have a candle-making business that helps support the community. The community also houses volunteers who live there and assist.
  • Sahale is an ecovillage and a retreat center operated by the residents. They host retreats and workshops in addition to events such as weddings, among meadows, orchards, and gardens.

Invite everyone to keep notes as you proceed, because their assertions about the merit of one IC type could be used later as part of the vision or mission statement.

Consider questions in group discussion.

  • How could this IC type meet the group member’s needs?
  • How could this IC type benefit the larger network of communities around it?
  • How could this IC type make use of the group’s assets?  
  • How could this IC type benefit from the assets of communities around it?
  • Is this IC type needed in our chosen area more than other types? If so, why?
  • What are the best examples of this IC type being successful?
  • Are there examples of this IC type being successful in our chosen area?
  • Which of our group’s preferred IC types could be combined?
  • If we don’t come to a clear consensus on one preferred IC type, is it feasible to operate as separate communities sharing some resources?
  • If it’s best to focus all our effort on one IC type, is there another type we might reserve as a backup plan in case our efforts don’t result in the expected benefits?

Compromise and negotiate.

Depending on how consensus-based your decision-making process is, it will be important to understand if some members are dissenting to the decision still. Without pressuring them, it’s important to understand whether or not they are willing to move forward with group toward the chosen IC type. If not, you might invite them to continue to attend meetings, in case they still would like to contribute or might come to see benefits in the chosen IC type. You might explore how the chosen IC type could meet some of the core values of the dissenting member(s).

Decide on one IC type or a combination.

After discussing the options using the above suggestions, your group might at this point use your chosen decision-making process to focus on one or two IC types. If there is enuf similarity in the IC types, you might choose to move forward keeping both options as future possibilities. However, this might be more complicated than choosing one or deciding on a combination of types.

Say respectful goodbyes.

If the majority are excited about one IC type and others are clearly not, you might hold a goodbye ceremony for those who are sure they don’t want to move forward with the plan, but only if the dissenting member(s) are interested in participating in the goodbye. As much as possible, keep the door open for future collaborations, unless the dissenting members feel too opposed to the chosen direction. Keep in mind the potential to re-involve the leaving members if the group later changes direction.

Write some first drafts.

This can be homework or worked on during a meeting. Timing it next to a break could work well, to allow for variation in the time that different members will want to spend in this exercise.

  • Based on the core values list from a previous exercise, and notes from the group answers from the questions listed above, have each member write a draft of a vision statement.
  • A helpful prompt could be as follows: What’s the purpose? What do we want to bring about in the future (big picture goal)?
  • Invite those who prefer to contribute but not write, to form one or more groups. In a meeting setting, point to a location for those to meet.
  • Choose impactful words that are memorable and relevant to your team. 
  • It can contain metaphor.

State the vision in the future tense.

  • A two or three year vision is often a useful and realistic start, far enuf out to get beyond present-day problems but not so far that you won’t get there in your lifetime. If you are planning a new community, a good focus point for your visioning is to envision the point at which your group has legal contracts completed, purchased the property and moved comfortably onto it, and has group agreements in place. This could be conceptualized as the point at which the outside world would recognize it as an established group, not a plan.

Evaluate and merge the drafts.

As a group, combine bits of each contribution to come up with a statement all prefer or can live with. Characteristics to check for include the following:

  • It needs to inspire the founder’s team and express the core values.
  • It balances high aspiration and achievability.
  • It doesn’t go into details that should be written in the mission statement instead.
  • Aim for a word count that takes less than two minutes to share, about 300.
  • What is the lasting impact your IC will have for members, others served (customers or a vulnerable population you choose to serve), and the larger community? Why does that matter?”
  • It’s nearly impossible to be precise and detailed at the same time. Develop a one-line vision statement and build out a “vision description” that details each part of the statement. It could be a series of bullet points, or full paragraphs like a manifesto.
  • Some recommend not to finalize the wording as a group, but leave that to the best writer in the group.
  • Your vision may need to be written somewhat differently for different audiences, such as your founder’s team, prospective members, and funding institutions. You might use the different contributions of members for these different purposes.
  • You can decide to refine it later. You can write it into the legal founding documents eventually.

Iterate when needed.

You may come back to this document as your group proceeds through creating the mission statement and the other templates of the group. It shouldn’t be seen as a failure to do a re-write. It is definitely better to rework the community in idea phase rather than rework it after people have moved to live with or near each other, substantially committing to a plan in a way that might have required disruption and sacrifice.

Share your statement online.

Link your googledoc (or other location for document sharing) to your ICmatch group description on the Team Up page. This way potential members get a better sense of what your group is becoming. Also, your work could inspire others going thru their own visioning process.

fiver person running on the field near trees